Reflections from a Fourth Year

Price Dickson is graduating the College of Veterinary Medicine this May and reflects back on her time as a volunteer and Team Leader in the Wildlife Medical Clinic:

Price (left) teaches one of her team members about triage. The barred owl is under anesthesia for an orthopedic exam.

I was a team leader in the Wildlife Medical Clinic for both my second and third year of vet school, and it was probably the best thing I did during my time at the college. From being able to manage real cases to scrubbing into surgeries, I had a lot of experiences there that made me a better doctor than I would have otherwise been. That being said, it also made me a better person. Here are the top 5 things I learned in the Wildlife Clinic!

5. Have patience. One of my first patients as a team leader wasn’t doing very well, and we had to have the conversation about euthanizing. “We’ll see how he’s doing tomorrow”, we said. We had the same conversation the next day, and made the same decision. Finally, on the third day, he began improving! He was eventually sent off to a wildlife rehabilitator. Drugs and fluids aren’t magic, and sometimes you need to give them time to work. This is true of a lot of things in life; sometimes, after you try to fix the problem you must give your solution a little time to make things right.

4. Hard work pays off… or doesn’t. Sometimes you can put hours of blood, sweat, and tears into a patient’s care and they make it through. That’s a great feeling. But sometimes, they die despite everything. In those situations, it’s important to remember that sometimes you can do everything right and still have a bad outcome, and it’s not your fault.

3. Teamwork is key. Imagine this scenario: You walk into the wildlife clinic and there are at least twenty baby squirrels and over ten tiny raccoons who need to be fed. You and your partner are the only ones on orphan feeding shift. What do you do? Fortunately for me, I had an amazing team backing me up. One spring when that very scenario occurred our call for help got nearly our entire team to come to our rescue, and the babies got fed! When everyone pulls together, what could have been an hours’ long job that would have negatively impacted our patients (babies can get very low blood sugar if they wait too long to eat) was done in time for everyone to get to class.

2. Being a leader can be the most rewarding job you have. When I tried out for team leader, we had to describe what being a leader meant to us. Being a leader can be teaching, mentoring, organizing, or just someone for people to vent to. And at the end of it I had an amazing team who worked well together and thanked me for it! Sure, it was a lot of work planning team meetings, organizing treatments, and teaching everyone, but in the end it was such a great feeling to see everyone progress.

1. Remember to love what you’re doing. Veterinary medicine is a stressful job. Modern life is stressful. But in the wildlife clinic, even though I was managing animals who were in pain and hated our treatments, I got to help animals recover. I will never forget the moment we opened the carrier and released our opossum back into the wild, nor the moment our duck shook his tail and swam off onto the lake. Sometimes having responsibilities in the Wildlife Medical Clinic was overwhelming, and sometimes I had to do some very unpleasant things (have you ever worn cormorant poop?). Still, in the middle of it all, it’s important to remember that you’re doing what you love. Even if you don’t love accessorizing with cormorant poop.

A Summer With The Owls

by Sarah Adams

“Just a pull a little tighter and you will complete that surgeon’s throw,” the manager explained as I completed my sutures for a laceration on a duck – yep that’s right, the first animal I learned how to suture on was a duck. Now as a vet student, I am very thankful for the experiences that I gained at the Wildlife Medical Clinic while spending summers there as an undergrad extern. The high volume caseload meant that there would always be a new challenge. Some of my most memorable cases include nursing two goslings back to health from an accident with fishing line, treating a box turtle that was hit by a car, an Eastern screech owl who needed eye drops, a fox kit with traumatic injuries, two orphaned bobcats from Louisiana, and a great horn owl with a fractured femur. Some of the more challenging cases include wrestling with a groundhog, an escape artist barn owl, and a notorious raccoon for treatments.

Some of my most interesting clinical experiences include giving intramuscular injections to baby red-eared sliders about the size of a quarter, tube feeding baby rabbits, bottle feeding fawns, and learning how to draw blood on birds. Learning how to do proper physical exams, write medical records, and record patient histories from the finders were valuable skills that will be useful no matter what area of veterinary medicine you explore.

From owls to turtles, rabbits to raccoons, I learned more than just clinical skills; I learned about public health, epidemiology, responding to medical emergencies, and educating the public about wildlife and the importance of conservation. Most importantly, working at the Wildlife Medical Clinic has taught me the power of collaboration in medicine. It was the knowledge and experience from the doctors and wildlife managers that helped make my experience truly unique. I learned that the knowledge that one doctor has can be different from another, and when that knowledge is combined the best treatment plan can be achieved. As of right now the Wildlife Medical Clinic has sparked my interest in emergency medicine; I look forward to seeing where else it takes me through my career in the years to come.

Nokomis: Remembering a Local Legend

by Zach Kline, VM2015

Last Saturday the Wildlife Medical Clinic held a ceremonial “release” for the ashes of the Resident birds who had passed away in recent years. I was upset when obligations regarding my clinical rotation prevented me from returning in time for the ceremony, so I wanted to make sure I paid my respects to one of those birds who made a big impact in my life while I was working for the WMC.

An incredible animal who was truly one in a million, Nokomis’s tame personality and inability to interact normally with other Great-Horned owls made him the perfect ambassador for his species and wild birds as a whole. Gentle, calm, and curious, Nokomis handily endured educational talks in front of large groups of people for almost thirteen years with the WMC. Over that time he (along with the other resident birds) touched the lives of thousands of adults and children in Central Illinois and was certainly considered the face of the Wildlife Medical Clinic.

I spent hundreds of hours working alone during late nights, holidays, breaks, and summers during my time as WMC manager. Occasionally those days could get rather lonely or frustrating, and Nokomis’s presence was always enough to cheer me up! As evidenced by the following photos, the two of us were bent on walking the path to stardom by means of various photo shoots, newscasts, and Public Relations talks. Though he was still a wild animal who was probably just tolerating my presence, every opportunity I got to have him on glove was beyond cool. I will certainly miss our time together.

During long days between patient treatments, I would have the “big boys” out to wander about the treatment room. Nokomis and Odin spent many collective hours exploring every nook and cranny the clinic had to offer.

Here, Nokomis is seen atop his very favorite perch.

I always likened Nokomis’s behavior to that of a very curious cat. Seen in front of him is a bin full of owl pellets that the clinic would sell to elementary schools. The tupperware on top was placed to dissuade that doofy owl from his habit of eating and/or knocking the pellets off of the refrigerator.

 

An intimidating visage, but a genuinely benign bird. Typically, Great-Horned Owl behavior is characterized by extreme threat displays and unbridled aggression. As a human, I feel fortunate that the only angry part of THIS owl is his face.

Photo shoot for the Veterinary Medicine Website. Nokomis spent 90% of this shoot being distracted by things going on behind him, so I’m surprised we got ANY of him facing the camera.

Nokomis was greatly admired by veterinary students throughout the school, as news of his passing clearly affected WMC members and non-members alike. While still upsetting to think about, I hope that these photos convey the respect I feel for this animal for all that his presence has done for the WMC and Wildlife Conservation in General.